115 | Lead in cinnamon apple purees (new information) | A mystery Bacillus | Listeria 101 |
Plus de-crunching Doritos and not-really-organic rose petals
This is The Rotten Apple, an inside view of food integrity for professionals, policy-makers and purveyors. Subscribe for weekly insights, latest news and emerging trends in food safety, food authenticity and sustainable supply chains.
Special offer for groups;
Cinnamon-Apple-Lead Poisoning Update;
Listeria supplement for paying subscribers (out now)
Mystery Bacillus explored;
De-crunching Doritos (just for fun);
Food fraud news, emerging issues and recent incidents
Hi, Happy Thanksgiving to my US readers. I’m thankful for you making space in your inbox for me each week*.
This week I’m celebrating that weird American phenomenon, Black Friday sales, with a special offer. And sharing the latest supplement for paying subscribers: Listeria 101, everything you need to know as a food professional.
I learned something new while creating the supplement: listeriosis comes in two forms: invasive (bad!) and non-invasive (mild). The two forms have wildly different incubation periods and infective doses.
Also this week, an update on the lead baby-food drama in the US, including a fascinating insight into how the contamination was uncovered, plus a mystery pathogen in mashed potato.
And a very bad YouTube of an 😦 unattractive man eating Doritos. Loudly. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)
P.S. *I am especially thankful to readers who support my work financially 👏 Huge shoutout to my long-time monthly payers Shilpa, Jacqueline, Xanthe, Cmason, and Mia 👏 I salute your commitment to my efforts. Thank you ♥
Special offer: Group Subscriptions Mega-Deal
For a limited time, get an unlimited group subscription for just US$599.
Cinnamon-Apple-Lead Poisoning Update
Three weeks ago, we reported in our Food Safety News that at least four children in the United States had been affected by lead intoxication from one brand of baby/toddler food containing “extremely high” levels of the heavy metal. (Here’s the original report)
New information is now available
The number of people affected has expanded to thirty-four.
The product was made in Ecuador and sold in the United States, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates.
The amount of lead in one sample was 2 parts per million (ppm), which is more than 200 times the maximum level proposed by the FDA in their draft guidance for fruit purees intended for babies and young children.
Products from the same manufacturer which do not contain cinnamon have been tested and do not contain elevated levels of lead.
The US FDA has not been able to obtain samples of the cinnamon used in the products.
The FDA is screening incoming shipments of cinnamon from multiple countries for lead contamination.
The FDA has been praised for its uncharacteristically swift action for this recall, with commentators crediting its new deputy commissioner for human foods, Jim Jones, for its decision to alert the public, just four days after being made aware of the issue.
How we know about the lead contamination
Lead does not typically cause acute illnesses, and lead intoxication is not often linked to food sources. So, like many food safety professionals, I was curious about how the outbreak was identified.
The only reason we know about this current situation, says Helena Bottemiller Evich of Food Fix, is because routine blood-screening tests conducted by a state health department and funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered four children with high lead levels in North Carolina. The state authorities investigated and after several weeks they were able to link it to consumption of the apple products.
Cinnamon contamination or adulteration
Cinnamon, being a natural product, can contain lead absorbed from the environment during growth. However, for a cinnamon-containing product to contain “extremely high” levels of lead the amount of lead in the cinnamon would have to be astronomical… much more than from naturally occurring lead from, say, cinnamon trees grown in contaminated soils; or from contamination with lead-containing environmental dusts or dirt.
Many food safety commentators are openly discussing the possibility that the cinnamon was deliberately tampered with, for economic gain (food fraud) or even for the purpose of intentionally causing harm (food defense).
Lead-based pigments in spices have caused harm to children in the past. Lead-chromate adulterated turmeric caused children in the USA to be poisoned in 2010 - 2014. Paprika adulterated with lead oxide caused the hospitalisation of more than 50 people in Hungary in 1994.
A sample of the Georgian spice kviteli kvavili, also known as yellow flower or Georgian saffron, was discovered to contain 48,000 ppm of lead in a NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) lead-in-foods survey. In the same survey, which assessed more than 3,000 food samples over ten years, nineteen cinnamon samples had a median lead level of 2 ppm, with the highest level in cinnamon being 880 ppm.
A lead-based pigment may have been added to the cinnamon in this product range, to enhance the colour, and/or to increase the weight of the spice, this being food fraud.
Food defence incidents are intended to cause harm to consumers and have a strong impact on companies and communities. Adulteration with lead does not fit well with this intention, because lead poisoning is slow-acting and can take months or years to be identified, minimising the potential for a high impact incident.
Takeaways for food professionals
⚠Warning! ⚠ If the cinnamon used in Equador to make these recalled products was from a larger batch, more products are likely to be affected, and more recalls can be expected.
If your company uses cinnamon, consider testing it for heavy metals including lead.
Listeria supplement for paying subscribers (out now)
This month’s supplement includes Listeria basics for newbies and latest knowledge for food micro nerds. Click the link below to access it.
While putting this supplement together, I learned that listeriosis comes in two forms: invasive (bad!) and non-invasive (mild). The two forms have wildly different incubation periods and infective doses.
Mystery Bacillus explored
Bacillus cytotoxicus - a largely unknown food pathogen
Before you panic about yet another new food pathogen, this bacterium is mostly found in dehydrated foods containing potato starch and insect-derived foods.
Bacillus cytotoxicus is a member of the Bacillus cereus group. It has been linked to rare, but occasionally fatal cases of diarrheal disease. Illnesses are perhaps underreported because it grows at different temperatures from other Bacillus bacteria, and could therefore be missed in microbial diagnostic tests.
Much about it is unknown, including how it enters the food chain and whether it persists in food manufacturing environments.
A new study reports that B. cytotoxicus is best incubated at 50 degrees Celsius, and might not be detected during food testing for other Bacillus species at 42 degrees C. It was found in 82% of mashed potato products and 67% of potato flake products, but not in non-potato-containing foods.
The researchers found close genetic links between samples taken five years apart in the same production facility, making it likely that the organism can persist for a long time in food production environments.
Source: Etter, D., Biggel, M., Greutmann, M., Cernela, N. and Johler, S. (2024). New insights into Bacillus cytotoxicus sources, screening, toxicity, and persistence in food production facilities. Food Microbiology, [online] 117, p.104399. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fm.2023.104399.
Sign up to get independent, ad-free news straight to your inbox each Monday. Free is good, paid is better!
Our expertly curated food safety news roundup contains not-boring news, guidance and reports from around the globe for food professionals. Click the preview below to view it.
Why Pepsico is De-Crunching Doritos (Just for fun)
Gamers love crunching on Doritos corn chips, say their brand owner Pepsico, who reported that 85 percent of US gamers have eaten Doritos in the past three months. Unfortunately, the crunching noises they make in their gaming microphones drives their gamer teammates to distraction.
One third of gamers report that listening to other people’s crunching distracts them and reduces their gameplay performance.
Aside: I can’t believe it’s only one third. Are the other two thirds of gamers totally fine with listening to other people’s loud eating noises while playing online?!
The fix? Anti-crunch software, developed by Doritos and designed to detect and remove crunching sounds from gamer’s audio feeds while keeping non-crunching sounds intact. The software was developed after analysing more than 5,000 different crunch sounds.
As every good food scientist knows, crunching noises are an integral part of texture and taste. Luckily, the software allows the cruncher to still hear their Doritos. Cuz no one wants a soft Dorito.
What you missed in last week’s email
Cocoa compliance: risks and solutions
New allergen thresholds published
Food Safety News and Resources;
How much does it cost to grow lettuce (just for ?fun?);
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud news, emerging issues and incident reports
📌 Food Fraud News 📌
Cargo Theft: An Example
How $250,000 Worth of Rare KitKats Went Missing
The bizarre story of the loss of two container loads of Japanese snacks and candies including matcha-flavoured KitKats has